Cameron Ortis, a former senior RCMP intelligence officer accused of leaking valuable, top-secret information to police targets, will testify today in his own defense.
The 51-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all six charges against him, including multiple charges under the Information Security Act, the law intended to protect Canada’s secrets.
The Crown alleges that Ortis used his position as head of a highly sensitive unit within the RCMP to try to sell intelligence collected by Canada and its Allies of the Five Eyes to people linked to the criminal underworld.
The defense is expected to argue today that Ortis had the authority to do what he did.
Ortis, a civilian member of the RCMP, was arrested in 2019 after police discovered emails he is accused of sending to Vincent Ramos.
Ramos, the former Canadian CEO of Phantom Secure Communications, had been on investigators’ radar for years and was suspected of providing encrypted phones to organized crime and money laundering operations to help them evade arrest.
“You don’t know me. I have information that I’m sure you’ll find very valuable,” says one of the emails the Crown says Ortis sent to Ramos, who is serving time in the United States for conspiracy to racketeering.
“I assure you this is a business proposal. Nothing more.”
Ortis is accused of sending Ramos to police intelligence gathered at Phantom Secure and demanding $20,000 in exchange for more information.
The documents Ortis is accused of sending to Ramos include reports from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada (FINTRAC), an RCMP criminal intelligence assessment and a document summarizing other intelligence and law enforcement information. western on Phantom Secure. The email allegedly sent by Ortis also included information about an undercover agent.
When police searched Ortis’ condo in downtown Ottawa, they discovered more documents on an encrypted USB key. They include intelligence reports that the Crown says Ortis sent to people the RCMP was following as part of an international money laundering investigation.
Ortis, who headed the RCMP’s operations investigation (OR) branch, is accused of sharing special operational information “intentionally and without authority” with Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf. He also faces a charge of attempting to share special operational information with Farzam Mehdizadeh.
Intelligence reports presented as evidence during the jury trial show that the RCMP was investigating those three men and their money services businesses for possible links to Altaf Khanani, once described in a media report as “one of the most wanted scammers in the world.
According to the US government, Khanani’s network laundered illicit funds for organized crime and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. After reaching a plea deal in 2017, Khanani served 68 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The documents recovered from Ortis’ home include FINTRAC reports and a report from the Criminal Intelligence Advisory Group, made up of police services from member countries of the Five Eyes alliance.
One of the recovered documents includes what appear to be notes describing ways to approach contacts with information.
“10,000 for the package? Maybe. But maybe use this as material that could lay the groundwork for future business relationships,” one note read.
In “Notes to Farzam,” the writer wrote: “You are on a CSIS watch list.”
“You (Aria Exchange et al) are targets of the DEA/RCMP investigation, the ultimate goal is to get to Khanani and a few others,” the notes say. The Crown alleges Ortis wrote those notes.
According to the agreed statement of facts, a package of classified material was mailed to Henareh in 2015. Ashraf told investigators he only became aware of emails from accounts the Crown had linked to Ortis after police investigations in 2019.
Mehdizadeh fled the country before his planned arrest in 2017, according to the statement of facts agreed upon at Ortis’ trial.
Over the past five weeks, the 12-person jury heard from nearly a dozen witnesses, including former colleagues of Ortis who testified behind closed doors, and reviewed more than 500 pages of evidence.
The defense will argue that Ortis had “authority”
Ortis’ defense attorneys, Mark Ertel and Jon Doody, are expected to make their case this morning before calling Ortis as a witness.
The jury has heard from the Crown that most of the facts of the case are not in dispute.
“The case has to do with authority, who was in charge, who was in a position to grant authority. Those are issues,” Ertel told reporters last month.
“What were the threats that were posed to Canada and the world, the urgency of the situation, the failure of other attempts by the RCMP to resolve these problems. And the scenario in which Mr. Ortis found himself as director of the OR when these events arose.”
Earlier this week, Ortis’ former boss, now-retired assistant commissioner Todd Shean, said Ortis was “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met” and oversaw an “extraordinary” team.
The OR was created to examine Canadian and allied intelligence and inform senior decision makers within the RCMP about threats and opportunities so that they would not expose top secret information in open court.
But Shean said Ortis never intended to go undercover or get close to the targets of a police investigation.
“For the life of me I can’t understand it right now,” Shean said when Ertel asked him what could have motivated Ortis’ actions.
“Why would you commit a criminal offense, jeopardize your career, everything you know, everything you do, your friendships, your relationships? Why would you do that? I don’t understand.”